Corpus Christi - The Body and Blood of Christ
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The Collect and readings for the day can be found here: http://www.aardweb.net/stalban/leaflets/2018-2019/Corpus%20Christi.pdf
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“Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need; from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk…And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the people —the holy people of God.”
These words were written in 1945 by the great Anglican theologian, Dom Gregory Dix. They are words that imaginatively capture the circumstances in which faithfulness to the Lord’s command have taken place. We can imagine ourselves within these various scenes, from the earliest days of the Church’s life with those lions roaring in the Roman amphitheatres, as Christians prepare to face their death, to the later horrors of the second world war with bullets ripping through the air, to the other extreme, to the peaceful serenity of the country parish church at your best friends’ wedding.
This act of sacrifice has bound people together across the centuries; from horror to happiness and everything in between. No other act in history has brought about such unity. Such a phenomenon surely leads us to ask the question, ‘why’, what is it about this action that has such force, such potency, that in moments of peoples’ lives, in happiness and despair, the same words have been uttered with the same sense of expectancy?
At every eucharist, we gather to draw on the Lord in Word and Sacrament; and in this time of lockdown, when we have been deprived of the sacrament for what seems like an eternity we must consciously ask ourselves the question, for what do we give thanks? What is this gift that has been given to us? So that when we are able to share again in ‘that wonderful sacrament’ we have a greater understanding of what has been given to us. Our readings today go some way to answering the question – they go some way in uncovering the greatest of mysteries, and what they point to is the closest, most intimate moment with God that we can experience before we see Him face to face.
The first reading, from Genesis, that place of ‘beginning’…. That book which contains those great opening words of vitality, is one that speaks of God’s providence – God’s goodness to us, and here we see God doing that very thing, providing for his children. We hear in the book’s opening words that God creates: creates out of nothing through his Word, it is through him that the chaos is tamed and order and stability issue forth – the providing of a dwelling place.
We learn of the goodness of creation, in the forms of bread and wine, the very things of the earth are offered by the priest, Melchizedek. God is praised for his gifts to us.
Bread and wine, normal, everyday things, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, the staple diet of the people of Israel, gifts of God for his people. He gives us the basic necessities of life, bread to feed us, and wine to quench our thirst.
In the Psalms we are told of the importance of these gifts: the cup of salvation will be lifted up, in the words of today’s Psalm. Now think of our Gospel: God’s providing for our needs takes on a new dynamic with the words of Jesus.
“I am the living bread come down from heaven”, “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life”. God in his infinite goodness to us provides bread and wine for us again. But what is markedly different? We hear in Jesus’ words that the people of Israel ate bread in the wilderness and died.
What has changed, so that the bread he gives will give life, and life to the full? Broken bread and wine outpoured are intimately connected to that action on the tree; his sacrifice made once for all upon the cross. Jesus’ words tell of his death, his body and blood given for us, and his resurrection, the seal of the new and eternal covenant with God. Jesus’ sacrificial act and the giving of bread and wine bind us to God in a mystical union – Christ dwells sacramentally with His people. This Christ becomes present for us and fills us with the eternal life won on Calvary and proclaimed through his appearance on Easter day and on the road to Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread.
Broken bread and wine outpoured along with the very words of the Lord himself bring about a transformation, a sacramental encounter with God. And, if this were not astonishing enough, a second transformation takes place, a transformation that the Saint Augustine would know only too well: that is, the transformation of our very selves. When we receive Christ in this sacrament, not only do we receive His grace and receive the salvation won on Calvary, but, through the Holy Spirit we become more like Him. We become part of the body of Christ; we are grafted into His own Body, the Church. Christ bids all to partake in him that we may have eternal life – our calling is to make known that promise to the world, to be the Corpus Christi for others, and in so doing lead others to the living Bread, to the one that gives life and life to the full.
The body of Christ in the eucharist takes not only the form bread transformed by the Holy Spirit, but with true faith in Him, as the very giver of life, it also takes hold of our hearts and unites them with His.
On this feast, when we remember Christ’s gift to us, his very self in those life giving acts of death and resurrection, we know that we are not worthy to receive Him, but confident in his promises we may ask: that by His word we would be healed.
The recognition of our dependence on God for true life has led to this sacred act being celebrated at your best friends’ wedding, on the beaches with bullets ripping through the air and in the moment of death.
As we prepare to make a spiritual communion, let us recognise our need and frailty and ‘draw near with faith’ beholding in our hearts God’s gift of love.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you give your body and blood in the eucharist
as a sign that even now we share your life.
May we come to possess it completely in the Kingdom
Where you live for ever and ever. Amen.
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